After 12 years as the city's mayor, Katz has yet to secure a signature project for the city. PGE Park? Not terribly impressive. A major league baseball team and stadium? Don't think so. And does anyone even remember the proposed cap over I-405 at the Burnside exchange?
And now, the much talked about plan of turning Memorial Coliseum into a community recreational center seems to be going the way of Katz--into retirement.
For the past three years, the city has talked about renovating the ailing Coliseum. The plans for the Memorial Athletic and Recreation Center (MARC) called for a diverse arena that would have bustled with activity: There were plans for indoor skateboard parks, state-of-the-art community athletic gyms, and especially noteworthy proposals for facilities to benefit area public schools. Those facilities are sorely needed, as two years ago local schools were close to cutting sports programs due to budget shortfalls.
But without any secured funding, the MARC project languished--a circumstance that can largely be blamed on Katz. During the past three years, Katz was more intent on attracting a baseball team than working on finding funding for the community center. Despite widespread opinion against a new baseball stadium, Katz continued to plow forward. As recently as August--with hopes for a major league team moving to Portland exceptionally dim--Katz announced a plan to raise $350 million for a new stadium (coincidentally, a sum equal to the money needed to fund the MARC). Meanwhile, without any identified funding sources, the MARC project floundered.
That is, until earlier this year, when a strange confluence of events made the renovation a possibility. Joan Kroc, heir to the McDonald's hamburger fortune, died and left the Salvation Army $1.5 billion--money intended to develop community centers.
To distribute their money, the Salvation Army conducted a multi-tiered competition with each state putting forward its best proposal. The looming funds could have easily resuscitated the MARC project.
But in spite of a two-year head start on plans for the MARC, last Monday the Salvation Army announced that Portland would no longer be a contender. In fact, Portland was not even a runner-up, falling behind Salem and Medford. And so once again, the MARC project is drifting aimlessly.
Unlike Salem's winning proposal, which had unified and enthusiastic support from their entire city council, Katz failed to build consensus around the proposed project. Both city commissioners Randy Leonard and Jim Francesconi were critical of the MARC plan, saying it would draw attention and funds from other, smaller community centers. And, even though she had boasted about the project's potential, Katz shoveled off the responsibility to city commissioner Erik Sten, and turned her attention elsewhere.
Rich Rodgers, one of Sten's staff members, said they did everything they could to bring in funding. Rodgers reported the city's presentation to the Salvation Army was a "commanding performance" and that staff had "goose bumps after hearing it."
Goose bumps or no, their presentation did not measure up. Rodgers said that Salem, the winner, simply did a better job of defining their needs. Salem now moves forward to a regional competition for the Salvation Army funding.
The MARC could have been a crowning achievement for Katz's tenure. Instead, the failure to secure funding leaves the central eastside--and incoming mayor Tom Potter--in a vulnerable position. Some have suggested turning the site into a mall or a space for big-box outlet stores. Others have suggested tearing the structure down altogether, leaving a gaping hole in the central eastside.
Worse yet, concurrent with the fledgling plans for the Coliseum, Portland Development Commission has been pushing renovation plans for an area along East Burnside that's nearly adjacent to the Coliseum. This area has recently seen sparks of life thanks to the opening of clubs like Doug Fir and Bossanova.
Yet in spite of the homegrown businesses in that area, PDC has suggested inviting in Home Depot as a way to anchor down more commerce. (A plan that would surely devastate family run businesses like Hippo Hardware, located just a few blocks away.)
If that development goes forward, coupled with turning the Coliseum into a big-box store, the central eastside could easily begin looking a lot like an outlet mall in Beaverton.
To a large extent, that pending vision is a significant part of the mess Mayor Katz is leaving behind--and subsequently, a big problem for incoming mayor Tom Potter.